Do Blogs Really Earn Business?

Recently, Graham Strong asked the question, “Do blogs work?”

It’s worth thinking over. There are millions of people out there seeking money through blogging – someway, somehow. They don’t seem to be generating much interest or income from their blogs, though.

Graham wrote, “James over at Men with Pens says he generates business from his blog. That, for many of us, is a great end result.” Yes, yes it is. I truly am grateful for what I’ve created. We could easily still be out there struggling to get a break.

But we didn’t get a break – we made our breaks, and that’s the difference. We used our blog as our gateway to building a business, and we seized every opportunity we could to make it work.

Blogging is an excellent way to start a solid career. But can blogging for business work for everyone?

Graham noted, “I can’t help but feel that most of us are sort of huddled in these little dark alleys across the Internet, quietly talking about writing amongst ourselves.”

This is a problem – and a big one. The problem isn’t with blogging per se, though. Rather, the problem is that people trying to build a business are huddled in those dark alleys. If you’re going to be the wallflower that never goes out on the town to party, get yourself a nice cardboard box and light a fire in the oil drum.

That dark alley is all you’ll ever know – unless you do something about bringing people to your blog.

The other day, a client of mine asked me, “Is it true, James? If I build it, will they come?” Mike had all his hopes and dreams in his hands, and he was asking me to be the voice in the cornfield. Many people believe the answer to, “Will they come?” is, “Yes.”

Unfortunately, the answer is clearly, “No.” The Internet is crowded. It’s rife with competition. Millions of sites and bloggers shove and compete for business. Some lucky ones make it big and touch a bit of fame. Most don’t.

There is one common issue that tends to appear time and again, though, with blogs failing to garner business: a lack of marketing.

I told Mike how the Internet works. You can build it, sure, and they will come, yes. But you have to go out and get them. You have to make them come.

You have to tack up signs, tell them where to go, pave the road, put up neon lights, set off flares, wave signals, put gas in their cars, offer refreshments, hand out road maps, and direct traffic like the ground crew of JFK International airport during rush hour.

Not only that, once people do come, you have to play tour guide and host. You have to make sure people stay. You have to ask them to go get Aunt Martha and Cousin Vinny – and then you have to get them to come back.

Graham wrote, “I’m not sure [a blog] is useful for attracting new clients.” He’s right. It isn’t. A blog is just a website that sits there. It doesn’t attract new clients in the least.

You do. So go out, find people, and bring them to your blog. Then you can start working on earning some business.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. You’ve made a great point — if you build it, you still have to market it.

    That not only applies to blogs, but it also applies more generally to everything writers do. I’ve known too many writers who have the fantasy that if they write it, and if it’s good, or if they are good writers, than readers/publishers/editors will come knocking at their doors. It rarely works that way. If you’ve got a book or are trying to build a freelance career, you’ve got to be able to market yourself and your writing.

    And, of course, a good blog, properly marketed, can be a platform to do that.

    Mark Tosczak’s last blog post..Nine exercises to stretch and strengthen your writing muscles

  2. Hi James – that is a good point. If you open a store on a busy street the chances are – most people are going to find you pretty easily – but a website is not so easy to find.

    I’m guessing that most people give up if they don’t get enough visitors after the first few months. I would love to know exactly how many abandoned blogs are out there.

    Cath Lawson’s last blog post..Toxic Relationships – Does Blood Matter?

  3. I’m living proof that you can blog for years in total obscurity. I sort of liked it that way because I could say that people just didn’t understand me or my art… but like I said on a post not too long ago it’s far easier to be a martyr for your art than to do the work of being an actual artist. Marketing is part of the job.

    By the way, don’t sell yourself short, James. You gave me my big break on Twitter and now I’m making tens of thousands of half pennies. Once I get a bottle of glue, it’s going to be pure gold, baby. :)

    Jamie Grove – How Not To Write’s last blog post..How I Almost Started Writing: Chicago

  4. James,

    I said a bit on this at Graham’s blog. (You know, I never say much.) His article was great.

    Your corollary is a critical point. I put in as much time stepping out of my blog as I do working in it. Sometimes more. Literally, as in handing out my card with blog address and suggesting every potential client visit, and virtually, running around leaving my trademark short, shy opinions at 20-30 favorite blogs a week. If you want your blog to work, you have to work. As Mark says, that’s for any business.

    Too many people think only of their own profit. But business opportunity seldom knocks on the door of self-centered people. No customer ever goes to a store merely to please the storekeeper.
    —Kazuo Inamori

    Please others with your blog, get out there and be of value so folks will follow you back like the Pied Piper, repeat.

    Regards,

    Kelly

    Kelly’s last blog post..Summer Is a Great Time to… Smile for the Birdie

  5. Mark W. says:

    When it comes to marketing and advertising I often think of a mid 1980’s TV ad (investment firm I believe). It went something like – “What have you done for me today” with the emphasis on today. This post reminded me of that ad.

  6. I’ve had an Excel web site for several years, and built traffic to that by participating in the Microsoft newsgroups. Now I’m writing a blog, and it’s like starting all over again. It’s challenging to market it, and I follow your blog for inspiration and ideas. Thanks!

    Debra Dalgleish’s last blog post..Stick Things Together in Word

  7. Graham Strong says:

    Hi James,

    I’m glad you are bringing this issue to your readers! I think it is an important topic, especially for those now blogging or considering to launch one.

    Just to be clear, my blog post was not a frustrated rant about attracting subscribers or “build-it-and-they-will-come” syndrome. I fully understood before I launched that it would take some work and dedication to get it up and running.

    And to tell you the truth, I am very happy with how my readership continues to grow. It is slow, but it is fairly steady — especially given that I’ve chosen to post just a couple of times per week on average.

    What I am pondering is the effectiveness of talking to each other instead of, as Tom Chandler puts it in a comment to that original post, creating a “customer-facing” blog. I mean I love the idea of opening discussions with other writers, talking shop, and the like. And I do think this goes a long way to building credibility and thought leadership with potential clients. I’m not convinced though that it is the most effective use of marketing time.

    If you are writing a blog just for fun, then none of this matters. Any residual clients you get are great. What I’m curious about are the people who do build it for business reasons, and then either do not get direct results or are not sure about the results they are getting. To take the “build-it-and-they-will-come” analogy back one step, just because it is possible doesn’t mean we should build it either.

    Yes, it takes hard work. Yes, it take time. My question is: If you are trying to use your blog as a marketing tool, is it worth the time and effort in the long run? The answer so far is “maybe”.

    It’s all a learning process, and I’m glad to be exploring it. I feel like Fitzgerald, Hemingway, et al in Paris c. 1920, trying to find new ways of writing in a changing world. ‘Course our cafés are of the cyber variety, and Gertrude Stein’s parlour has been replaced by the MWP blog and others. But the feeling is there, and it’s exciting.

    BTW – Amazing graphic. That arched doorway is *exactly* where I saw us all huddled…!

    ~Graham

    Graham Strong’s last blog post..The Writing Tip I Learned from Paris Hilton (True Story)

  8. After two years and being stuck at 50 page views a day, I’ve realized that I’ve been playing at blogging and not taking it seriously.

    Because the blog didn’t do anything other than tell people about what was happening in my life and the changes in it. Yes I gave people lessons, but I never actually gave people calls to action or a reason beyond curiosity to come back.

    Now (thanks to your prompting over on Copyblogger), I’ve developed a purpose for the blog (vision/mission, etc…) and feel super energized about turning two years of hobby blogging into the beginnings of blogging for business.

    (Another prompt was my sister [ http://urbanpanther.typepad.com ] after a month of blogging getting more regular comments than I do after 2 years and I’m nothing if not competitive {grin})

    Cheers,
    Alex

    Alex Fayle’s last blog post..Pause and Reflect

  9. I feel like Fitzgerald, Hemingway, et al in Paris c. 1920, trying to find new ways of writing in a changing world. ‘Course our cafés are of the cyber variety, and Gertrude Stein’s parlour has been replaced by the MWP blog and others. But the feeling is there, and it’s exciting.

    It’s a brave new world, and James and Harry have replaced the manliness of Alice B. Toklas’ mustache.

    —–
    Sorry, couldn’t help myself. ;)

    Jamie Grove – How Not To Write’s last blog post..How I Almost Started Writing: Chicago

  10. @ Graham – What confuses me is why you believe that bloggers only speak to other writers? Our range of readers varies from people who don’t write at all to those in high-level copywriting positions. What makes you feel that writing on writing limits you to readers that write? There are no limitations, from what I can see.

    @ Jamie – I refuse to wear a mustache. Even if I am French.

    @ Alex – It’s a common problem, actually. Everyone leaps into blogging but really have no idea why they’re blogging, who they’re blogging to, how to blog or what to do. Then they sit there watching 3 readers visit for a few years, get discouraged, throw up their hands and say, “Blogging doesn’t work!”

    Mmm… I beg to differ. Like Kelly said, you have to work at blogging. It isn’t a magical solution to anything.

    I’m kind of keen to see what direction you take after giving you the arse-kicking you needed :)

    @ Debra – You have no idea how high I tip my hat to your challenge of blogging on Excel. MATH! ;)

    @ Mark – Hm. I ask Harry all the time what he’s done for me today. Somehow, it doesn’t seem to have the same positive effect that the TV commercial did…

    @ Kelly – Ahh, you bring up a great point – how many bloggers have business cards with their blog on it? It costs less than $100 bucks for 1,000 cards these days and it’s damned cheap promotion. (I love my card. All black and slick!)

    @ Jamie – Didn’t I already answer you? What, are you trying to get MORE fame out of this? MORE attention? Good lord. It’s bad enough you’re writing all those excellent things on your blog these days. Now you want TWICE the direct comments from me? ;)

    It’s always kind of neat to see when I point to someone and say, “Hey, look here!” And everyone does. Make me grin. Glad it’s helped with those pennies.

    @ Cath – I think when people realize that an online presence is no different from a brick-and-mortar store as far as marketing and operations go, the blogosphere will suffer some good change :)

    @ Mark T – Ahh, the eternal writer dream. Pen the words, and suddenly you’ll be discovered. Yes, yes… quite true, that. We writers do tend to spend more time building castles on clouds than foundations for business, don’t we?

  11. I hear you, James. I’m listening.

    I was thinking, but I’m going to have a website as my primary source (aren’t I?) and the associated blog will be secondary (won’t it?)…and then I thought, regardless, your post applies to both website and blog. Doesn’t matter which you have, you must market. You must make them come. And bring friends. And stay.

    I’m quaking, but my ears are pricked.

    steph’s last blog post..Taking the Focus Off ME

  12. Graham Strong says:

    @James – Hey, I’m not going to argue with the master!

    For whatever reason — hard work, excellent writing skills, a positive environment — you’ve been able to make it work writing about writing. But in researching this topic so far, I’ve found that MWP is the exception to the rule. And that’s exactly why I highlighted you in my post in the first place!

    (I have a sneaking suspicion that if you wrote about *any topic*, you’d have a following… Your style and attitude fit the medium so perfectly!)

    ~Graham

    Graham Strong’s last blog post..The Writing Tip I Learned from Paris Hilton (True Story)

  13. @ Graham – Oooh, I dare you to challenge me to test that theory. Go on. Do it. I so dare you.

    (Heh, is it right for me to feel incredibly proud that we’re an exception to a rule?)

  14. @James –
    “But we didn’t get a break – we made our breaks, and that’s the difference. ”

    Damn right. The harder we work, the “luckier” we get

    @Graham –
    Great question in your post. Blogs can be a tremendous pipeline for new customers if you’re answering their big questions in your posts. Remarkablogger is a great example of this.

    The “blogs as a marketing tool” really pays off if your content is geared towards SEO – capturing potential customers at the point they are searching for what you have to offer.

    James pushed me to write an entire series of articles around the issues one of my products addresses, and I am getting SEO traffic (and sales) because of it. Maybe you should do a series as a test & see how it works for you?

    Keep rockin’,

    Dave

    Dave Navarro’s last blog post..Review of SEO School – The Full Edition

  15. @James Hey, it’s not my fault if I’m addicted to attention. I’ve got two strikes against me:

    1) I’m a writer

    2) I learned it from you. :)

    Jamie Grove – How Not To Write’s last blog post..How I Almost Started Writing: Chicago

  16. I was watching a little video about the MV Fiber Farm the other day, and one of the things she said was that 99% of her business is in the marketing and that she spends as much time on the internet as she does with her sheep and goats. Now, of course, hers isn’t a writing business, but still–she’s done amazing things to get her business off the ground, all thanks to the internet and word of mouth (or, whatever you call “Word of mouth” when it’s actually typed onto blogs and message boards rather than spoken).

    The video, incidentally, is very sweet and inspiring–basically telling how this woman gave up her high-stress job in television producing and became a shepherd … which sounds kind of bizarre in the 21st century, and yet … she’s living HER dream. And, of course, a good part of her “marketing” is done from her BLOG.

    Yay for blogging….

    –Deb’s last blog post..MM: Email–a Memo or a Letter?

  17. Michael Martine says:

    Blogs damn well do get business, and plenty of it if you do it right! :)

    Understanding what you’re really selling or what your reader-prospects really desire (and fear) is step one for success. Then write and take steps to attract an audience. For a business blog, the goal is to turn readers into buyers, and writing that doesn’t do that is a waste of time. That’s why so many business blogs are no better (and often worse) than the average personal blog. And it doesn’t involve big sales pitches, as James and Harry prove here every day.

    Michael Martine’s last blog post..How I Brought My Business Back from the Dead with Blogging

  18. You have not, unfortunately, covered those people who blog for the sheer joy of it. Most regular bloggers fall into that category. What has really happened is that the monetized blogs have really become websites rather than for what blogs started. There are some wonderful blogs in the Internet with small readership but very vibrant and alive with exchange of ideas, support and so on.

    I am sure that a lot of them will be very happy to see some money coming in too but, that does not seem to drive their passion.

    Nicole Price’s last blog post..Camcorders: Deals and Discounts

  19. @ Nicole – Ahh, but we are covering it in a soon-to-be-coming post this week. Wonder if you’ll figure out which one? ;) Think on what Michael mentioned, too, though – even personal blogs have a mission and need a readership. They don’t have to be about business, but they’re certainly not about talking to empty rooms, either.

    @ Michael – I don’t think we could be any less salesy… well, okay. Sometimes we give a nudge, but always with a lesson to learn :)

    @ Deb – Now *that* is a cool story. Dropping it all to raise animals is a *great* example of the power of blogging.

    @ Dave – I think there is great power in series. Our “How to Write Website Content” series had excellent response. Glad to see my idea helped you out too!

  20. Ones content also does the marketing, to some degree, no? So, even by investing a great deal of time into ones content, one there by is working on their marketing. Nothing sells your blog like the content.

    Bamboo Forest’s last blog post..Be Embarrassed about Nothing

  21. @ Bamboo – Not exactly. Yes and no. Take a look at our content, for example. Are there better writers out there? Of course. Plenty of people write very well indeed, and I have my own pen heroes.

    So what makes the difference? Why does our content get read more? Why are we popular and those great writers aren’t?

    Marketing.

  22. Michael’s point really says it all:

    “For a business blog, the goal is to turn readers into buyers, and writing that doesn’t do that is a waste of time.”

    If you’re not converting readers into buyers, then all you’re probably doing is just talking shop–which is fine if you already have all the business you need.

    If you don’t yet, then you probably need to create what Tom Chandler called “a ‘customer-facing’ blog,” writing sales pitches in the form of informational posts (truly valuable information that stands on its own, though, and can benefit non-customers as well) designed to provoke your readers into doing business with you.

    If you’re truly in business, then that’s all that really matters.

    Jesse Hines’s last blog post..Do You Commit This Common Grammar Mistake?

  23. I particularly love the dichotomy of spending half her time working with the animals, lugging hay and water and such, and half her time on the internet. Only in the 21st century!!

    –Deb’s last blog post..MM: Email–a Memo or a Letter?

  24. First of all, I want to say that I do like mustaches!

    I think the problem arises when some people start a blog and expect instantaneous results. Most people can’t expect to post their first blog post one day and see a flood of leads the next day (especially if they had no prior online presence).

    I find that participating in the online community is as valuable for generating business as blogging.

    Yes, blogging DOES generate business – IF it’s done right.

    Laura Spencer’s last blog post..Of Note: Writing For Hire

  25. Michael and Jesse: well said. I can’t wait to put this into practice (with the help of the Men, no less).

    steph’s last blog post..Taking the Focus Off ME

  26. James — I think I’ll refer a few of my clients to this post. I frequently have clients, when they first hire me to write for their blogs, ask why their blogs aren’t getting traffic, or why they’re getting traffic but no conversions. Some are relying on search engine optimized titles to bring in new clients; others aren’t even doing that much. Folks honestly do seem to think that they can slap an article up — whether it’s on a blog or a website — and that the article will bring them business. I’ve seen this work for exactly one client of mine (out of dozens of clients and hundreds of article); I called it a happy accident and told him not to expect it to happen again.

    Amy Derby’s last blog post..Progress Not Perfection, a Fine Freelance Writing Career Mantra

  27. Phillip Hines says:

    I’m finally joining the blogging community at large. This post is interesting. I just recently wrote on if blogs are essential for businesses, so it relates to this.

    Blogs are good for a business to build credibility and trust. It’s also a good learning tool for readers.

    Consider an online newsletter, except in a different form.

    Phillip Hines’s last blog post..Me managing a marketing event for A.J. Wright in Portsmouth, Virginia

  28. Blogs these days are the tools of choice for many marketers who want to engage their audience in a fresh and exciting ways. It’s quickly becoming an excellent way to build your business.

    The difference is in how you use your blog. The best way is to study ultra successful people who use their blogs to engage, discuss, promote and make millions of dollars in the process.

    Here are some legendary resources you may want to check out for authors, writers and bloggers:
    http://www.alexmandossian.com
    http://www.entrepreneurs-journey.com

  29. “What?”, the artist asks, grabbing a juice. She saunters over to a cozy chair and sits to see what comes next. ( Oblivious to the vermillion paint she has now left on James refrigerator.)
    “This blog is about writing?” , hm, she sips, ” I thought it was about life and passion.”

    Am I in the wrong place?

    Janice C Cartier’s last blog post..Sleepless Nights

  30. @ Janice – *cocks his head at her with a smile* Isn’t writing about life and passion? Now wipe that damned paint off. I’m still trying to get the blue off my table from last week.

    @ Thomas – Hm. No one’s called me legendary yet… King, yes. Legendary, no. I see I have work to do.

    @ Phillip – Essential? No. Smart? Definitely.

    @ Amy – Aye. That’s a misconception I wish we could cure. We’ll keep harping on about it for you. Sound good?

    @ Laura – Ha! I like the way you said that. IF it’s done right! Kind of like driving, huh? “Hey, how come I hit that tree?? I pressed on the gas…Isn’t it supposed to drive itself?”

  31. I think this goes back to something Dave said, a blog is a great tool to use to drive targeted business to your website by use of search engine indexing. In the beginning, you may only have a few articles and only get a few hits, but if you blog about taxes and accounting for 2 years and round up a lot of tax advice, people are bound to start finding you through search engines. Especially now how search engines are taking blog indexing more seriously.

    Granted though that all that blogging took up a lot of time and could your time be better spent elsewhere, well consider this too:

    By blogging you are constantly challenging yourself and pushing your limits. You read other blogs and gain more knowledge. Bloggers also have to learn how to manage their time efficiently. Then there’s also the fact that when you teach people something, you learn it more yourself.

    In that regards, a blog can be a powerful tool for not only marketing your business, but also molding you into a better entrepreneur and learning how to make more money online.

    John Hoff – eVentureBiz’s last blog post..A Glimmer Of Hope For Those With Bad Credit

  32. Turning the page of her well worn copy of a Moveable Feast, she looks up, “Well, that’s what I always thought. ”

    You know James, you have to have texture, she smiles, dabs at the orange with her paint rag…

    Oh look someone else just walked in the door….I’ll just sit over here and scribble on some napkins with my fountain pen…

    Janice C Cartier’s last blog post..Sleepless Nights

  33. John,
    That sounds a lot like a discipline. :)

    Janice C Cartier’s last blog post..Sleepless Nights

  34. James,

    Why haven’t you put your card up at Business Cards of Bloggers? Let’s see that slick thang.

    Janice,

    Discipline, yes, but why do some folks expect the easy route from the Internet? Business is business, no matter where you conduct it. John’s got it right on the money.

    A little discipline in between sips of shiraz is okay…. :)

    Later,

    Kelly

    Kelly’s last blog post..Summer Is a Great Time to… Smile for the Birdie

  35. @ Kelly – Because I’m graphically file challenged and Harry holds all the keys to my business cards?

    HARRY!! HARREEEEEE!! Go put my slick card over on that site!

    Um. Please :)

  36. @ Kelly – And I know so many people that think just having a website means automatic business. They don’t like to hear how much work it can take driving business to it.

    John Hoff – eVentureBiz’s last blog post..A Glimmer Of Hope For Those With Bad Credit

  37. John,

    “If you build it, they will come” only works if Kevin Costner stars in a movie about it. And then what do you get? A bunch of baseball apparitions.

    James,

    Srsly, you can’t do that yourself? I posted about it in early May. You should have yelled at Harry then.

    Wait, Harry isn’t reading my blog?

    *#%%*^^!

    Kelly’s last blog post..Summer Is a Great Time to… Smile for the Birdie

  38. @ Kelly- Yeah, they want those magic beans, huh? Grow me a stairway to heaven. That giant is still up there and you still have to contend with him.

    Shiraz? Hey, pass me a glass…I am listening to my man Wynton.

    You know how you spell art? W-O-R-K. I’m thinking it applies to the art of life and business too…that is if you want the good stuff.

    Janice C Cartier’s last blog post..Sleepless Nights

  39. Bill K. says:

    Definitely a good reminder on marketing, especially if you’re just starting out. For me right now, cranking out the content is paramount. If you’re going to market, you’d better have something to market, and if you’ve got something to market, you’d better market it.

    You may attribute your success to marketing, James, but you’ve got some great content here too. I’m always impressed by the number of comments you guys rack up on your posts. You’ve got a sticky site.

    One other thing:

    There are other motivations for approaching this blogging business other than the ones mentioned here. Apart from the joy of writing, I like the credibility that comes with having a solid blog when contacting people outside the blogosphere. It’s a great link for my email sig lines. One more skill set to help put you over the top when looking for freelance work.

    Bill K.’s last blog post..On $3 posts and Google the tyrant

  40. @ Bill – Thank you for the kind words. And yes, we have an impressive comment section and a great gang here commenting.

    Good point, too. Never ignore an extra skill you can develop easily.

  41. @kelly, @james, Yeah, I want your business card!!!!! C’mon Harry, get the finger out!

    Brian Yerkes’s last blog post..Obama versus McCain : Web Design War

  42. @ Brian – It’s comin’, it’s comin’!!! Will we get fame, fortune and wealth beyond our dreams from it?

  43. People. Please. The files to our business cards is currently trying to be salvaged by the Geek Squad.

    It might be a couple of days, especially since I may have to end up recreating the image from scratch.

  44. Hm. Good point. I forgot. I was riding the river today. No canoes :)

  45. Brian,

    Dude, you have mine. :)

    Harry,

    Those Geeks will find it for you. My fingers are crossed.

    James,

    In the meantime, O river-rider, Why not take a photo? I like the photo-look better than an e-file. Oh, right… Men don’t like photos.

    Hmpf.

    Kelly “You Never Loved Me” Erickson’s last blog post..Inspiration Points: Abraham Lincoln’s Secret

  46. Now I know it’s true. You’ve let Akismet eat my comment.

    *sniff*

    Kelly “You Never Loved Me” Erickson’s last blog post..Inspiration Points: Abraham Lincoln’s Secret

Trackbacks

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